5 Things to Know About Water Transfer Printing

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If you’re an automobile enthusiast who likes to add some extra “swag” to the look and style of your vehicle, then you may have admired some of the decorative body detail effects that adorn some of the vehicles you see. The same eye-catching graphics are also applied to other items such as computer cases or other three-dimensional items. Here are five facts to help you understand more about this decorative art. 

1. What is Water Transfer Printing?

Water transfer printing is also known as hydrographics, hydro dipping, immersion printing and other terms. It is a process of applying printed imagery onto surfaces of three-dimensional objects. This technique can be applied to plastic, glass, metal, wood and other similar materials. 

Hydrographics are often used on exteriors of vehicles such as hot rods, all-terrain vehicles (ATV), and other hobby or enthusiast types of vehicles. Car dashboards are also commonly decorated with this method. If an item can be dipped in water without surface corrosion or damage, it can withstand this process, and the results should turn out as desired.

2. Designs and Artwork

Hydrographics dipping can enhance many hobby or enthusiast products to give them a personal touch or possibly even increase the resale value. It’s common to use the procedure to add patterns such as camouflage or marble to collectible items like rifle stocks or computer cases. You could also choose more elaborate scenic imagery such as unicorns or flaming skulls to adorn the exterior of your van or Harley Davidson motorcycle. 

3. Materials Needed

Of course, the easiest way to apply hydrographics artwork to your hobby item is to pay a professional to do it for you. However, if you are a do-it-yourself type of person, there are some materials you will need to acquire before you tackle the project. There are quite a few items you will need, so it’s important to gather all these before you start. The items are as follows:

  • A pair of gloves
  • A scuff pad
  • Sandpaper
  • A brush for touch-ups
  • Large container for dipping
  • Hydrographic film
  • Primer
  • Clear coat paint
  • Hydrographic film activator
  • A thermometer

4. How It Works

The artist applies decorations with a print that resides on a thin film. When the film is placed on the water surface, the base dissolves, allowing the printed graphics to be freed from the film and transfer to the surface of the object that is being decorated. An activator spray is used to hold the print graphics in place on the water surface so that the item can be dipped into the water surface in order to receive the image. 

Before dipping the object into the water, the item’s surface has to be prepared in a similar fashion to other decorative painting methods. The surface of the object needs to be cleaned, sanded if necessary and a coat of primer or base coat of paint needs to be applied. When the surface is prepped and dried, the item can be dipped to receive the graphics. 

After the item is dipped into the large container and the image is transferred to the item surface, the imagery is sprayed with a coat of clear paint to prevent it from being rubbed or scratched off. If automotive-grade clear coat is applied, the graphics should last as long as a factory auto paint job that is resistant to sun, rain and normal wear. 

5. History

The first time this technique was used is somewhat of a mystery, but the first patent for a hydrographic machine was given to Motoyasu Nakanishi in 1982. 

Hydrographics is popular among hobbyists and enthusiasts who want to showcase their collectible items. If you are interested in learning how to do this creative art form, there are many tutorials featured on social media in the form of how-to instructional videos or blog articles.

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